Resolution | Education Union Renewal: the New Imperative

published 25 September 2019 updated 25 September 2019

The 8th Education International (EI) World Congress meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, from 21st to 26th July 2019, recognises that:

(1) The 8th Education International (EI) World Congress meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, from 21st to 26th July 2019, recognises that:

(i) education unions, across all sectors, play an invaluable role advocating for high quality public education for all, and defending the rights and conditions of education workers;

(ii) education unions stand for access to education as a human right, education as a pre-requisite for democratic citizenship and education as essential to social justice;

(iii) we stand in the way of those who seek to turn public education into a commodity for the purpose of making private profit;

(iv) we oppose those who seek to cut back education provision to limit access to educational opportunities and we speak back to those who attack academic freedoms to close down democratic spaces; and

(v) in defending the rights and employment conditions of education workers we challenge those who seek to provide education at minimum cost, exploiting the goodwill and commitment of education professionals.

(2) Education unions all around the world face serious attacks. These include:

(i) attacks on collective bargaining rights and attempts by governments and employers to circumvent existing rights and processes;

(ii) a growing managerialism in educational institutions that often seeks to undermine trade union organisations;

(iii) direct attacks on the safety and freedoms of education union activists, such those experienced by colleagues in Colombia, the Philippines and many other places; and

(iv) the introduction of anti-trade union laws that limit the rights of trade union members to act collectively, including taking strike action.

(3) Alongside these attacks, continued austerity and the associated growth of precarious employment make trade union organising increasingly difficult. Often those most affected by precarious labour are those who are already most vulnerable in the labour market, and therefore those most in need of trade union support.

(4) At precisely the time when education workers face some of their biggest threats, our capacity to resist these challenges is being deliberately undermined. This requires education unions to find new ways to respond to changed circumstances. The status quo and ‘no change’ are not an option. This is the imperative for union renewal – the revitalisation of our organisations by connecting with union members and drawing them into activity. We must transform ourselves from mass membership organisations to mass participation organisations. There is no union renewal that is not a process of democratic renewal also.

(5) Union renewal is a process of transformation and one that is already visible in many of our organisations. It is possible, therefore, to identify some of the key features of renewal, although we recognise there is no magic formula and experiences must take account of very different contexts. Examples of this work, clearly evident in many EI affiliates, include:

(i) work to improve the participation of under-represented groups in our unions, including, for example, a focus on improving access for young people and women to trade union activism and to responsible positions within trade union organisations;

(ii) creative ways to organise around professional issues so that unions act for educators across all aspects of their work, industrial and professional (ETUCE, 2018);

(iii) turning unions outwards into campaigning organisations that not only ‘re-frame the narrative’ on key issues, such as education funding, but build broad alliances with students, parents and civil society organisations;

(iv) re-thinking union structures to create more inclusive and participatory organisational cultures and giving members multiple ways to engage with the union by reflecting their diverse interests and identities; and

(v) making the union present in the lives of members by building union capacity in workplaces so members can experience their union making a real difference for them in their work.

(6) Congress welcomes EI’s recent work in promoting this agenda, particularly its report ‘Organising teaching: Developing the power of the profession’ (2017). The recent initiative by ETUCE (‘Your TURN: teachers for trade union renewal’) also provides excellent opportunities for knowledge sharing. There is a new imperative to build on these initiatives, and to draw on the rich experiences of EI affiliates, to further develop this work. Given the scale of the challenges we face there is an urgent need to share our knowledge and deepen our collective capacity to address common threats.

(7) Congress mandates the Executive Board to:

(i) identify and facilitate opportunities to share the knowledge, expertise and reflections of EI affiliates in relation to union building and union renewal;

(ii) offer particular support to EI organisations whose limited resources make it difficult to engage in these activities;

(iii) consider establishing a union renewal network across EI affiliates to facilitate the sharing of experiences and maximising opportunities for shared learning;

(iv) utilise EI’s communications technology to facilitate rapid and flexible interactions;

(v) utilise the EI Research Network (RESNET) to further develop a union renewal research agenda and engage with academics who can contribute to this process;

(vi) consider the development of a ‘union renewal toolkit’ - a set of flexible resources, able to take account of cultural and contextual differences, which can help affiliates that seek to reflect on current experiences and bring about strategic organisational change.